7 Tips for Better Cognitive Health in Later Life

Most adults worry about cognitive decline as we get older. Fortunately, there are simple ways to help keep our minds healthy and functioning well even as we age. If we are blessed and live a long life, normal aging is a part of the deal. As we grow older, our bodies and minds experience changes. For many, one of the greatest concerns that come with aging is the possibility of memory loss, the development of mild cognitive impairment, or worse. We can each incorporate some changes into our daily life to minimize these risks. Here are 7 tips to help keep your brain sharper in later life.

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1. Engage in Physical Activity for Improving Cognitive Health

Physical exercise is not just good for your body, it is also great for your brain and mood. Many studies show that regular exercise can help maintain good cognitive health, support cognitive reserve, and reduce the risk of cognitive changes.  A Mayo Clinic article on brain health lists regular physical exercise at the top of the list of recommendations.

Exercise for Brain Health!

Physical exercise helps increase blood flow to our brain, which helps to improve cognitive function and memory, and executive function. Older people don’t have to run marathons or lift heavy weights to reap the cognitive benefits of exercise. Engage in physical activities that you enjoy, such as walking, swimming, dancing, or gardening. Even low-impact exercises like yoga, chair yoga, or tai chi can help improve brain function while supporting motor function.  

Participating with others can add a fun and beneficial social aspect.  Many of us find having a dog to walk provides ongoing motivation and a sense of purpose. Check out our post What Are 3 Benefits of Pet Ownership for Seniors’ Well-Being? Find physical activity and exercise you enjoy so you will stick with it. The key is to keep moving!

2. Eat a Healthy Diet for Brain Health

Eating a balanced and healthy diet is important for overall health, including brain health. In an article on the National Institute on Aging website, What Do We Know About Diet and Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease? the Mediterranean diet and the similar MIND diet seem to show the greatest benefits. These are heart-healthy diets, and a healthy heart will certainly support a healthy brain.

 Make sure to include foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats in your diet. Reduce your intake of processed and high-sugar foods, which have been linked to cognitive decline and other chronic health conditions.  If you are considering major changes to your diet, consulting with a professional is advised.

There are many benefits to eating well. A diet that is rich in antioxidants, fatty acids, and other nutrients can help reduce inflammation in the brain and improve cognitive functioning. The antioxidants found in food, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals which can harm brain tissue. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon, tuna, and other fish as well as walnuts and flaxseed oil, are also important for promoting healthy brain functioning. They are believed to help to increase communication between neurons and protect cells from damage caused by inflammation. Eating a variety of foods that contain these essential nutrients can help keep your brain functioning at its best. 

For more details see our post on 6 Crucial Eating Tips For Healthy Aging.

3. Stay Mentally Active for a Sharper Brain

As we get older, especially if we have transitioned out of a career, our daily routines can become limited.  This can lead to cognitive decline. Regularly challenging your brain by engaging in mentally stimulating activities can help maintain and possibly improve cognitive function. Even simple changes to our routines such as varying our walking or driving routes, can be beneficial. Make it a habit to explore new areas!

Lifelong Learners

Activities like playing crossword puzzles, reading, listening to audiobooks, learning a new language, or engaging in a new hobby can all help keep your brain sharp. You can also learn new skills by taking online courses, attending seminars, volunteering, or joining a club.  Dancing is another activity that can be pleasurable, keep us moving, and engage our brains.  

Any of these activities can help improve your memory, reasoning, and problem-solving skills while enhancing your overall well-being and enjoyment of life. An article on supporting brain health by the Alzheimer’s Association, Stay Mentally and Socially Active, stresses the importance of exposing your mind to new topics.

Many older adults also enjoy the many brain training puzzles and programs that are available.  While research outcomes on the benefits of these programs are mixed, many seniors enjoy them and seem to benefit.

Brain training programs are designed to strengthen cognitive abilities, such as memory, attention span, problem-solving skills, and processing speed. These programs, which are often available online or as apps, provide a series of exercises that you perform regularly, similar to going to the gym for your brain! Some research indicates that these programs can help improve certain aspects of cognitive function, especially when used consistently over time. Examples of popular brain training programs include Lumosity, BrainHQ, and CogniFit. Remember, though, to make sure any program you choose is scientifically validated. And limit your screen time, especially close to bedtime.

4. Get Enough Sleep for Better Cognitive Health

Getting enough sleep is crucial!  Sleep is essential in supporting mental function and in detoxifying all parts of the brain. 

Adequate sleep plays a pivotal role in memory consolidation, a process crucial for learning new information. While we sleep, our brains are busy replaying, organizing, and storing the day’s experiences. Specifically, the deep stages of sleep, or slow-wave sleep, appear to be particularly important for memory consolidation. During this phase, the brain replays the day’s events, helping to solidify these memories and integrate them with previously stored information. 

Sleep deprivation can impair our cognitive performance in other ways. Lack of sleep affects the prefrontal cortex, the brain region responsible for decision-making, attention, and logical reasoning, making it more challenging to absorb and retain new information. Therefore, ensuring you get a good night’s sleep can significantly enhance your ability to learn and remember new information.

Quality sleep is not just about resting; it’s an essential time for the brain to carry out vital housekeeping tasks. A type of brain cleanse known as the glymphatic system becomes active during sleep. This cleaning system is responsible for flushing out waste products from the brain, including harmful toxins associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. It works by circulating cerebrospinal fluid throughout the brain tissue and carrying away waste products, effectively detoxing your brain.

Good sleep hygiene, which includes maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and creating a restful environment, is crucial for facilitating these detoxification processes and maintaining brain health. Make sure to get enough restful sleep each night, which is about 7-8 hours for most adults. Develop a regular sleep routine, and avoid using electronic devices before bed to help improve sleep quality.

For more details see our helpful article on 11 Sleeping Tips for Seniors


5. Connect with Others for Enhanced Cognitive Health

Social interaction and connection are essential for cognitive health. 

Maintaining regular interpersonal connections has been shown to have significant benefits for both physical and cognitive health. Research studies show that people who regularly engage in social interactions have lower risks of heart disease, certain types of cancer, and mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. 

In terms of cognitive health, social engagement is equally essential. An article from the Center for Disease Control, Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Serious Health Conditions, reports up to a 50% increase in the risk of dementia. Further research has suggested that socialization can not only maintain cognitive abilities but can also improve them.

Enjoyable Time With Friends

Moreover, social interactions can help to reduce stress, which is known to have negative effects on cognitive function. When people connect with others, their bodies release hormones that combat stress and promote feelings of contentment. Consequently, this promotes a healthier, more active brain. 

Whether it’s through family gatherings, meetings with friends, participation in community groups or clubs, volunteering, or even through online social networks, maintaining regular social contact is vital for cognitive and physical health in later life.  

And remember,  while phone and video calls can provide vital ongoing interactions with family and friends who are not close by, in-person interactions are still essential for health and happiness. We discuss more about this in our post on Ideas for Seniors to Build Strong Community Ties.


6. Manage Stress to Maintain Brain Health

Stress has been linked to cognitive decline and dementia. Find healthy ways to manage stress such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or hobbies that help you relax and unwind. What do you enjoy? Listening to music, time with a favorite person or pet, and enjoying nature and sunshine can all bring pleasure and reduce unhealthy levels of stress. Discover your own magic moments!

If self-help techniques are not enough, don’t hesitate to seek professional assistance. Stress and anxiety not only impact your cognitive health but your overall health and well-being. Psychotherapists, counselors, and support groups can provide valuable tools and strategies to help manage your stress effectively. Reach out to your healthcare provider for resources and support to help you navigate through your stress.  If memory issues are interfering with daily life, a cognitive assessment with a qualified health care provider can provide a road map for supporting your health.

Better Balance With Simple Exercises

7. Enhance Your Balance, Reduce Your Fall Risk

Improving balance and reducing fall risk is crucial for the physical and cognitive health of older adults.  Falls often lead to injuries such as fractures or head traumas. This can impair cognition and reduces mobility and independence.  Resulting physical inactivity can trigger other health problems, including cardiovascular disorders and muscle weakness.  

A fall or fear of falling can result in individuals limiting their activities and social interactions. This can contribute to self-imposed isolation, leading to anxiety and depression. This further can exacerbate memory loss and confusion. Enhance balance and reduce fall risk for cognitive health, independence, and cognitive wellbeing.

In addition to taking steps to develop and maintain better balance through targeted exercise, being mindful of tripping hazards is important. If there are vision or balance issues, creating a safe home setting is essential. Definitely check out our posts on 5 Great Exercises for Fall Prevention, and Simple Steps to Improve Senior Home Safety.

In Conclusion

Maintaining cognitive health is an important part of aging well and adding more life to our years. We can all enhance our older years by integrating these tips into our daily life.  Small changes with consistency can help build and maintain our health and vitality. Focus on your strengths, stay active, and enjoy your life! 

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Kathy’s mission is to use the Age Better Resources platform to share the knowledge she acquired over many years to help seniors understand how they can optimize their later years. Her hope is that the content on this site, the associated services or products available, and the experts she will share, will help you or your loved ones create a plan to live as many good days and years as possible. If immediate or more personalized support is needed, personal consultations are available.

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